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Sunday, December 4th, 2016

BLACKHAWKS: THE PRESEASON EDITION

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Here come the Hawks, the somewhat mighty Blackhawks. A look at a few of the changes the Hawks made during the offseason.

–Good things happen when there’s a Marty around. They make you laugh (Short), travel back in time (McFly) and come out of nowhere to win Best Picture (Ernie B. in ‘55). The Hawks now have themselves a Marty, and he can put biscuit-in-basket with the best of them.

Meet Marty Havlat. Just 25, Marty has world-class skills and is coming off a terrific postseason for the Ottawa Senators. The Hawks had to trade the gritty Mark Bell in a three-way deal to get him, but Havlat is truly a game breaker on offense. He comes to the Hawks with solid veteran Bryan Smolinski.

–The Hawks haven’t exactly catered to their star players over the years. Amonte, Chelios, Roenick, Hasek and Belfour are just a few of the big names to take their games elsewhere. Apparently it is a policy not confined to the players. It’s hard to believe but Hawks telecasts will no longer be called by the great Pat Foley.

The Hawks split the simulcast and offered Foley a contract to remain on the call for the radio. Then they withdrew it. A local scribe said the Hawks lowballed Foley. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. In his stead the Hawks have hired Dan Kelly to do the play by play on the TV side. Kelly is a deep-pipe guy with a long resume. He also comes from a family of sportscasters (sound familiar?). His late father Dan Sr. was the voice of the Blues for 21 seasons and his brother John is the current voice of the Blues.

From what I have heard, Dan Kelly has a Don Criqui-like sound but younger and perhaps more inspired. Former Hawk Ed Olczyk will serve as color commentator.

–The Hawks have not won the Stanley Cup since 1961. They last played for the Cup in 1992. They have not made the playoffs since a swift, first round exit in 2002. They missed the playoffs the 4 years prior. It’s been a rough ride, as Foley used to say.Last season the Hawks totaled 63 points. The number 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs was Edmonton. They finished with 95 points. Do the math and you get something like one light year away from postseason play.

Can all that ground be made up in one off-season? Only the St. Louis Blues scored fewer goals and allowed more than the Hawks in their conference last season. It’s a lot to ask. But if goalie Nikolai Khabibulin reverts back to form the answer is yes. The NHL found many a crack in the “Bulin Wall” in ’05-’06, as he allowed more than one goal per game than he did in when he was a member of the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. He had more shutouts in that postseason than he did all of last year. The total last year was zero.

–Some good news for Hawks fans is that we will be able to see 5 home games on TV this season. Did “Dollar” Bill Wirtz finally evolve enough to realize that a few home games on TV can create rather than erode a fan base? Nope. He’s contractually obligated to do it. The Hawks will have 7 games televised on NBC and OLN. That dips into their road game total. And since the Hawks are signed to show 39 games on Comcast Sportsnet, some of them now have to be home games. Here’s guessing that the attendance figures don’t budge a bit. And maybe someone can explain that to Wirtz so the Hawks can rebuild a proud yet shrinking fan base.

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